If you look past the hype, existential concerns, and fear that Alexa is a CIA mole, there are some genuinely exciting developments happening in the world of artificial intelligence.
Some of these have very specific applications, such as medical imaging, diagnostic capabilities, or satellite imagery recognition. Others, like digital assistants — or even robots — are poised to dramatically impact how we live and work on a broader scale.
Of course, most of us care about more than just a series of clever tricks. We want AI that does more than the bare minimum — which thus far has been defined as tedious manual tasks that are a nuisance for humans to complete. We want AI that can be harnessed to truly augment and enhance human intelligence, to keep in stride with us and act as a personal, contextually aware virtual assistant. IT professionals, in particular, can’t wait for the ultimate AI companion, which represents an imaginary best work friend come to life who you can interact with across a number of different interface types.
But what exactly does this look like? First, as we’re talking about a personal assistant, your AI should have a name; let’s call your companion Bender. Bender is a bot that comes to you pre-trained with a number of basic skills and interfaces, such as voice recognition, natural language processing, an augmented reality system, and more. In addition, Bender is equipped with machine-learning algorithms to learn about your work life, work habits, and any real-world factors that affect your job.
So what can Bender do? Let’s look at an example.
Say you’re a developer at a global company, and you have teammates in India and Brazil. You don’t speak Hindi or Portuguese and your teammates don’t speak English, but you need to meet on a weekly call to go over your progress and timelines. Bender would translate the conversation for you in real time, and your teammates would have the same done by their own AI helpers. So you would communicate directly with an English-speaking interface via Bender, and your teammates would do the same in Hindi or Portuguese. Imagine Skype’s real-time language capabilities — combined with the magic of Douglas Adams’ Babelfish — expertly trained in the jargon of technology professionals and able to bridge the gaps of cultural idioms and idiosyncrasies. Bender would help break down remote working barriers and increase team cohesion across global borders.
This may seem like a simple start, but now imagine how Bender can assist you across other types of interfaces, such as in AR. That is, Bender sees what you see. Look at an application architecture diagram, and Bender annotates it for you. Scribble things on whiteboards, notepads, or napkins, and Bender remembers what you wrote. Navigate a data center, and Bender can guide you to the right cabinet and piece of equipment.
Using glasses, contact lenses, or some yet-to-be-created neural interface, Bender can be equipped to supercharge your vision and memory recall. Between your workspace, laptop, smartphone, and smartwatch, you likely have a minimum of three different screens to juggle — but by augmenting your vision, Bender could replace them all. Need a small, transparent notification in your peripheral vision to get your attention? Done. Need a field of vision in widescreen format to get into the details? Easy. There’s no limit to the ways Bender could augment what you see.
Probably one of the coolest and most useful ways an AI helper like Bender could be of service is by acting as the front-end entity to handle service calls and incident management. Bender would be your personal gatekeeper to gather all of the necessary background information and details of an incident, including cross-checking for similar customer or vendor reports, analyzing the IT environment for any abnormalities or recent changes, and taking care of anything else you might handle manually if you answered the call.
By the time you’re engaged, Bender will have done all the heavy lifting to compile the information you need and eliminate any of the usual suspects behind a problem. You get to stay focused on tasks where you can add maximum value, and interruptions are fielded by an AI assistant trained in your ways and environment. And the more you use Bender, the more Bender learns to finish your sentences and anticipate how you would tackle a problem.
Eventually, this kind of AI-assisted incident management could expand to become even more contextual and proactive. Let’s say, for instance, Bender wakes you up in the middle of the night with a customer emergency. Bender is well aware that, at this ungodly hour, you won’t be anywhere near your computer and you won’t pick up your smartphone, but you will immediately put your AR-enabled eyewear on. Bender thus briefs you on the problem via AR first, until you get to another device where you can more deeply tackle the issue.
AI companions represent an entirely new category of IT tools, going beyond monitoring, data analytics, issue tracking, or collaboration. It can become a whole new market fed by an ecosystem of other tools — all augmented by person-, role-, and company-specific knowledge. The conversation surrounding AI has accelerated rapidly over the last couple of years, spinning up the latest technology bandwagon that every enterprise and its parent company is hungry to hop on — but this is something to truly be excited about. This goes above and beyond the hype.
For busy professionals, AIs like Bender hold the promise of scaling ourselves, minimizing cognitive load, and allowing us to manage the increasingly complex environments in which we operate.
Abbas Haider Ali is the CTO at xMatters, an IT automation company.